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Kitchen Nightmare

A legendary chef gets skewered.

3:15 PM, Jan 15, 2014 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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But in the midst of the skewering, Wells mentions, almost off-hand, that "a union contract limits his ability to hire and fire cooks, but that didn’t keep Paul Liebrandt and Justin Bogle from pulling off formidable technical feats when they ruled this kitchen." Richard once worked in a union kitchen, where even if the cook at the meat station is overwhelmed, the cook at the fish station won't lift a finger to help him out because he doesn't have to. (On a related note, as Kyle Smith pointed out in Forbes regarding the union rules that governed Hostess Brands, "If cakes and bread arrive together and are headed to the same place, they must nevertheless be split onto separate trucks; drivers are forbidden to load products onto their trucks.") Another chef who once worked at the Jockey Club told me he'd never work in a union kitchen again—after a walk out, he had to wash every single dish himself. In's post about Wells's scathing review, one reader comments, "I am in support of a living wage, but in my experience a union house harbors cooks that care more about pay, hours, and benefits than what they put on a plate. Good luck. This chef is fighting a losing battle." Another sarcastically adds, "At least the cooks make $20+ an hour and get full benefits."

It's been a rough few years for Michel Richard. His temple of gastronomy, Citronelle, was ruined after a flood in the Latham Hotel. His café, Michel, in Tyson's Corner, Va., closed after barely a year. And then there was the fiasco behind that meatball place with his name attached to it. (The Washington City Paper asks, "Is Villard Michel Richard the Meatballs of New York?") Enough is enough, you might think. But even at 65, Michel Richard is nothing but resilient. And he has no plans to retire—Richard will point out that his contemporaries like Wolfgang Puck (age 64) are busier than ever and that even Paul Bocuse is still puttering around. (Bocuse is 87 years old.)

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